Appeals Court Rules in Favor of Inmate Shackled While Giving Birth

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that a former Arkansas inmate, Shawanna Nelson, who was shackled during labor has the right to sue the corrections officer present during her labor. The ruling stated “existing constitutional protections, as developed by the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts and evidenced in Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC) regulations, would have made it sufficiently clear to a reasonable officer in September 2003 that an inmate in the final stages of labor cannot be shackled absent clear evidence that she is a security or flight risk.”

Elizabeth Alexander, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, which represented Nelson, said in a press release, “this is a historic decision by a U.S. Court of Appeals that affirms the dignity of all women and mothers in America…Correctional officials across the country are now on notice that they can no longer engage in this widespread practice.”

Nelson was a non-violent offender who gave birth in September 2003 while in prison. Her lawsuit alleged that both of her legs were shackled to a bed during the final stages of labor, violating her eighth amendment rights. She alleged that Larry Norris, Director of the ADC “failed to ensure that appropriate policies for the treatment of pregnant inmates were implemented” and that ADC Corrections Officer Patricia Turensky “despite having witnessed her severe contractions and despite the expressed wish of medical personnel, failed to follow prison regulations requiring to balance any security concern against the medical needs of the patient.” Friday’s ruling determined that Norris is immune to prosecution, but that Nelson has the right to sue Turensky.


ACLU Press Release 10/2/09; Nelson v. Correctional Medical Services

Support eh ERA banner